Poetry Out Loud 2019: High School Students Compete For Cash The Poetry Out Loud contest is kind of like a poetry spelling bee. Kids from across the country compete at reciting their chosen poems, and the winner takes home a prize of $20,000.
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These High Schoolers Have A Passion For 'Poetry Out Loud'

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These High Schoolers Have A Passion For 'Poetry Out Loud'

These High Schoolers Have A Passion For 'Poetry Out Loud'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It started with tens of thousands of high school students. Tonight, nine of them face off in the finals of Poetry Out Loud, a kind of spelling bee for poetry. The champion gets fame, glory and $20,000. NPR's Elizabeth Blair went to yesterday's semi-finals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVAN REYNOLDS: "I Have A Time Machine" by Brenda Shaughnessy.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: That's the Poetry Out Loud state champion from Connecticut, Evan Reynolds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVAN: It can only travel into the future at a rate of one second per second.

BLAIR: Students recited poems by the likes of Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson and Phillip Levine. They're judged on things like physical presence, voice and articulation and evidence of understanding. From the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mahlana Graham recited "Black Boys Play The Classics" by Toi Derricotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAHLANA GRAHAM: The most popular act in Penn Station is the three black kids in ratty sneakers and T-shirts playing two violins and a cello.

BLAIR: As a senior, this is Graham's fourth and last Poetry Out Loud. She received an honorable mention but was sad not to move to the next round.

MAHLANA: This competition is a huge part of my life. I have been looking forward to it since I've been in elementary school.

BLAIR: The state champion from Maine, Joao Rodrigues Victor, is moving on to the finals. He recited "Bright Copper Kettles" by Vijay Seshadri.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOAO RODRIGUES VICTOR: Dead friends coming back to life. Dead family speaking languages living and dead.

BLAIR: This is the second year in a row the Maine state champion is an asylum-seeker. Victor is from Angola. Last year, the main champion was Allan Monga from Zambia. He sued the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation for a chance to compete for the national title. Last year, the NEA said only U.S. citizens could compete. This year, the rules are different. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

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